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completely obedient, and doing what other people want without questioning or criticizing

'Anthea Turner was a successful Stepford celebrity … until she began a relationship with a married businessman.'

The Independent March 2002

any individual whose behaviour is irreproachable and conformist can be described as Stepford

The adjective Stepford, as illustrated above, is used especially in reference to women and often crops up in journalistic criticisms of female stereotyping. A Stepford wife is a domestic goddess, sweet natured and subservient, and indistinguishable from her neighbours. The compliant image that this portrays has been extended to other contexts. Any individual whose behaviour is irreproachable and conformist can be described as Stepford, spawning productive use in compounds such as Stepford husband, Stepford children, Stepford parents. A Stepford employee is someone who always toes the line at work. The term has entered the political arena, especially in America, where descriptions such as Stepford politician, Stepford candidate, Stepford Republican, and Stepford voter refer to stalwart individuals who pursue political involvement with a systematic, unemotional, machine-like attitude. Although usually used attributively as part of a noun compound, predicative use can also be attested, especially in describing a person or thing that lacks individuality and conforms to systematised norms, e.g.:

These days everything's the same – it comes on a shiny silver disc – and it makes us more and more Stepford.

Background – Stepford

Stepford used as an adjective originates from a book written in 1972 by Ira Levin called The Stepford Wives, more well-known for its dramatization into a movie in 1975. (A 21st-century remake starring Nicole Kidman hit the screens in 2004.) Stepford is a New York suburb where women are strangely content in their lives as mothers and housewives, and as the plot unfolds, we discover that these women are in fact robotic creations, programmed by their husbands to embrace traditional wifely duties and norms. In the twenty years since the original movie was released, the adjective has become more widely used to refer to anyone who lives their life in a compliant, robotic fashion.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 28th April 2003.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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